Starbucks: The Grinch That (Didn't) Steal Christmas

11/11/2015 12:52 GMT | Updated 10/11/2016 10:12 GMT

When I opened twitter yesterday and saw #StarbucksRedCup was trending, my first thought was that it might be a competition for free Starbucks. (I'm a broke student, so I'm always on the hunt for a freebie.) But instead of discounted hot drinks, I found a furious and completely absurd argument raging over whether Starbucks was the Ebenezer Scrooge of 2015.

The principle, as far as I can understand from the reactionary mess online, is that Starbucks are attempting to 'de-christianize' Christmas, by releasing a specially designed Christmas cup which - oh the horror! - is red ombre, rather than adorned with stars or pine trees or holly or something.

Starbucks' design choice is apparently emblematic of a culture which enjoys making Christmas a secular affair, or even erasing the holiday all together. (Designing and releasing a special cup to celebrate Christmas is of course a great way to erase a holiday.) Comparisons have been made with previous years' cups, which have snowflakes, stars, reindeers and more on them. Even Donald Trump has waded in, advocating boycotting the coffee chain all together. Apparently the Grinch has stolen Christmas and marketed it as a latte.

The most frustrating thing about the red cup debate is that it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christmas is, even among Christians who should know it better than anyone.

Biblically speaking, a red cup is no less 'Christmassy' than a cup patterned with snowflakes. Was Jesus born in a snowstorm? Did Santa Claus bring Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Did the local shepherds drive their reindeers to visit Him, as He lay in a manger full of holly and pine boughs? Our symbolism of Christmas is tangled up with other mid-winter celebrations and our own cultural traditions. Previous years' Christmas cups have shown nothing of the religious origins of Christmas, instead sharing the secular images that have come to define this time of the year. Yet nobody ever complained.

Maybe it's true that Starbucks are toning down their Christmas imagery on purpose. Let's imagine that for a minute. Ironically, by removing as much of the popular Christmas symbolism as they can, they are actually doing what churches have been attempting to do for years. They're stripping away as much of the secular imagery of Christmas as possible, something that I often wish I could do.

Of course, it's more likely that this was a design choice, and nothing to do with so-called Christian-phobia. The attractive red cup is perhaps suggestive of a cultural shift, but not so much in our attitude to Christmas; more in what is considered attractive. It could easily be argued that the plain colour and subtle gradient says that minimalism is in fashion. See how easy it is to embue a disposable cup with completely unnecessary cultural significance?

This year for Christmas I am going to enjoy more than three weeks off from University. I will go home and see my family, including my father who will be given Christmas day off, like nearly every worker in the country. The television will be given over to Christmas broadcasting, the radio will play carols. Beforehand I will go shopping for Christmas gifts in shops which have dedicated Christmas displays, offers and special ranges.

I can buy cards and decorations and wrapping paper and food and drink pretty much anywhere I like. And I am incredibly grateful that I live in a country where not only am I allowed to celebrate my religious holidays, but pretty much the entire country will join me in celebration.

This is a time of year when my faith is not just tolerated, but happily shared by people of other faiths or none. The entitlement of somebody standing up and complaining about a cup - a cup! - when their faith is so openly embraced is staggering, and shows a complete disconnect with some of the harsher aspects of life. Please, let us enjoy Christmas in peace and goodwill, without these petty complaints - it is the season for it, after all.